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From the Principal Files

Principals Launch School-Wide Wellness Programs


Many schools weave health awareness programs into their curriculum. Those programs improve school climate as they build wellness awareness in the wider community. Included: Principals share school-wide fitness, health, and nutrition awareness programs.

"When our bodies feel right, our minds work right!"

That's the motto of the Wellness Committee at Pulaski Elementary School in Wilmington, Delaware. The committee has arranged many programs aimed at bringing that motto to life in their school.



Valentines Day week is a very special week at Parker School in Middlesex, New Jersey. To promote wellness that week, we coordinate with the American Red Cross and their Jump Rope for Heart program, says Principal Maureen Hughes. Physical Education classes have jumping stations with different activities at each.

We also hold a Heart Healthy Feast, added Hughes. Each class contributes a different healthy snack -- celery sticks, carrot sticks, pretzels, you name it. The students bring in the healthy snacks in small snack-size plastic bags. On Valentines Day, we love our hearts. Classes visit the display of healthy snacks and choose two for their celebrations.

In addition, all teachers plan grade-appropriate classroom activities that week to support education about heart health.

Our Wellness Committee has been working hard to incorporate activities and events that will enhance physical exercise and promote a cohesive, fun environment, says Principal Tracey N. Roberts. They plan healthy living activities for staff, students, and families.

Roberts explained how Pulaskis focus on wellness starts first thing in the morning with JAMmin Minutes, a program that is a regular feature of the schools morning announcements.

At the end of the daily announcements, we play music and announce the physical exercise that everyone is expected to do while the music is playing, Roberts told Education World.

And sometimes the music meets up with the curriculum. During Hispanic Heritage Month, we teach a Spanish phrase, tell a fact about a person of Hispanic heritage, and play Latin music so that the students can exercise to a different sound, Roberts explained.

The schools wellness program extends to snack time, too. As partners in the federal Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, all Pulaski students are served a healthful snack each day. The snacks range from cucumbers or cauliflower to kiwi or pears. Students are encouraged to at least taste each days snack. The snacks are served during D.E.A.R. (Drop Everything and Read) Time or another appropriate time.

In addition, the school is participating this year in the CATCH (Coordinated Approach To Child Health)
, a scientifically-proven program that promotes physical activity, healthful food choices, and smoking prevention.

At Pulaski, staff as well as students benefit from programs the Wellness Committee has initiated. Last year, Pulaskis teachers started a Walking Club. Interested staff members met after school in the parking lot and walked a pre-determined path. The program helped build camaraderie among staff members and provided support for those who were trying to reach a weight-loss goal, said Roberts.

This year, the Walking Club concept is being expanded to include students. During the first 10 minutes of each recess period, students walk around the perimeter of the schools playground. Teachers log the students minutes and provide incentives. For example, students earn cute toe tokens for reaching milestones such as 50, 100, and 200 minutes of walking. They proudly display those tokens by attaching them to little chains that hang from their book bags, knapsacks, or coat zippers. A chart in the main hallway displays for students, staff, parents, and visitors exactly how many minutes Pulaski's Panthers have pranced.


Not all schools have a Wellness Committee that produces such active and multi-faceted programs as the ones at Pulaski Elementary, but most schools are doing their part to get out the message that exercise and good nutrition are key to being ready to learn and living healthful lives.


The Pied Piper

When the weather doesn't allow students at Strong (Maine) Elementary School to go out to play, principal Felecia Pease can often be seen marching the halls with a line of students behind her. She is taking the students for a Principal's Walk.

Students pair up and we take a walk around the inside of the school, explained Pease. Part of this walk also involves following the leader and doing what I do. The walk usually ends in the gym with the entire K - 8 student body in a giant circle playing a game of Hokey Pokey.

At Grace Day School in Massapequa, New York, Operation Wellness (OW!) invites students, faculty, and families to participate in cardio-blast exercise workouts, yoga sessions, weekly stretch programs, nutrition lectures, karate, cooking classes, and after-school fitness clubs. Some events are one-time only and others are ongoing. Some tie in to curriculum and others are just for fun.

Larry Anderson, who heads the school, says the newest program is proving to be one of the most popular. Project FAST (Fitness, Agility, Skills, Teamwork) is an after-school program led by an outside vendor who runs similar programs in a number of schools in the region. FAST is actually two programs, one for younger students and another for older students. The programs emphasize healthful and minimally competitive recreational activities. Registration for both programs maxed-out quickly, added Anderson.

Many of our students are two-, three-, or four-sport athletes who have huge after-school practice and competition schedules, notes Anderson. The FAST programming is especially important for those who are more interested in recreational endeavors rather than mega competition, travel teams, and the rest.

A Zumba Dance class, the latest fitness craze, is a pending addition to Graces Operation Wellness offerings, added Anderson.


Zumba sessions are up and running at P.S. 107 in the Bronx, New York, says Principal Pamela Lee.

In her second year as principal at the school, Lee wanted to introduce a focus on wellness. I asked my daughter's friend who is a Zumba instructor to come into the school gym to conduct a one-hour Zumba class for teachers and parents, said Lee. Classes began just a few weeks ago.

No parents have joined us yet, said Lee, but I am definitely participating and seeing the results!

The energy level in the class is high, Lee reports, and we are looking into advertising the classes to the wider community.


More from
Education World

For more ideas about creating a wellness community in your school, read these Education World articles and blog entries.

Kim Cavanaugh is principal at Mentone (California) Elementary School, where the PE motto is It's your heart, treat it smart.

As a matter of fact, Cavanaugh frequently approaches students and says It's your heart... When I say that to students, they have to finish my statement by responding Treat it smart! and doing ten jumping jacks.

Cavanaugh recently told Education World about a group of fifth graders who came to her with an idea. They said they were inspired by their PE teacher and wanted to start a fitness club during their lunchtime recess. The club, a fairly informal group of fourth and fifth graders, emphasizes fitness through organized games and fitness activities such as walking, jogging, or doing jumping jacks, Cavanaugh explained. This club is one of many ongoing wellness-focused activities at Mentone, but it is Cavanaughs favorite to tell about because the students initiated it.

At DePew (New York) Middle School, recent declines in student enrollment have left Principal Joe DAmato with a few classrooms to spare. One of those rooms happens to be adjacent to the gym, which prompted a series of conversations about the possibility of creating a middle school weight room. That talk led to a plan that moved excess, appropriate, and usable equipment from the high school to the middle school.

Now the physical education department, the PTO, Student Council, and my office are working to fund the remainder of the equipment, DAmato told Education World. This will be time consuming, but the goal is to have an additional learning area for the schools PE classes and to provide a place where our students can work out and exercise -- in an intramural sense -- after school. We are hoping the staff will make use of it as well and serve as role models.

DAmato shared news of a second effort at DePew spurred by the schools very active -- and proactive -- PTO. They met with the districts food service director to create additional options for the schools breakfast and lunch menus.

All of our food already fit with our districts current Wellness Policy, however our PTO was able to work out some interesting adjustments, said DAmato. Now we offer a Hungry Man meal that gives our growing students larger portions for a slight price increase. That way, students dont supplement smaller portions with snacks from the vending machines. The PTO also asked for a salad bar. Though that could not be accommodated, prepared salads are now offered as an option to the lunch menu every day. The cafeteria also offers 100% fruit juice Slushys as another fruit option.


Clay Hill Elementary Celebrates Monthly Character and Health Traits

At Clay Hill Elementary School in Jacksonville, Florida, students celebrate and learn about different character and health traits each month.

Each grade level takes a month and publicizes the traits for that month, says Principal Larry Davis. Teachers suggest activities and students and teachers together plan school-wide assemblies, create posters, plan writing contests, arrange speakers Those are just a few of the ideas employed to promote and teach about their assigned traits. The monthly traits are reinforced by all teachers and involve the PE coach as a true collaborator. Monthly assemblies provide an educational focus and a fun way to bring together the entire school community.

In an effort to promote character education and health/fitness throughout the school all year long, a schedule of traits is created and grade levels are assigned. The chart below shows the schedule for the current school year.


Character and Health Traits
Grade 2
Grade 3
Muscular Strength
Grade 4
Resource Classes
Body Image
Grade 1
Grade K
Exercise Myths
ESE Classes
Environmental Issues
Grade 5
Student Recognition
Grade 6
Exercise Ideas
Title I Classes


The following members of Education Worlds Principal Files team shared their schools wellness initiatives in this article: 

  • Laurance E. Anderson, head of school, Grace Day School, Massapequa, New York
  • Kim Cavanagh, principal, Mentone (California) Elementary School
  • Joseph D'Amato, principal, Depew (New York) Middle School
  • Larry Davis, principal, Clay Hill Elementary School, Jacksonville, Florida
  • Maureen Hughes principal, Parker School, Middlesex, New Jersey
  • Pamela Lee, principal, P.S. 140, New York, New York
  • Felecia L.L. Pease, principal, Strong Elementary School and Phillips Elementary School, Strong/Phillips, Maine
  • Tracey N. Roberts, principal, Casimir Pulaski Elementary School, Wilmington, Delaware

To explore other practical articles from the Principal Files series, go to our Principal Files Archive.
Click here to learn how you might contribute to a future "Principal Files" article.


Following are some additional articles from Education Worlds article archive that focus on fitness and wellness.

Article by Gary M. Hopkins
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